There is no doubt that the Chevy Volt is a revolutionary machine. Housed inside the seemingly normal sedan like body is not only a naturally aspirated engine, but an electric one as well. That said, the Chevy Volt appeals to wider audience than that of the Nissan Leaf since it can run like an everyday vehicle without the range concerns, yet still boasts the same green street cred.
Over the course of the 7 days I drove the Chevy Volt in a variety of scenarios and tried to unearth the car’s flaws. And while it definitely has some, I was pleasantly surprised with Chevy’s attention to detail and overall craftsmanship. My friends, this is the just the beginning of a revolution.
The Chevy Volt is a 4 door sedan with hatchback like trunk. It’s rather unremarkable at a glance, but there a number of subtelties that makes this anything but your parent’s Chevy. First off, the car has specifically been designed with a drag coefficient in mind; they’ve tried to minimize wind resistance with the hopes of increasing fuel economy. The windshield sits as a rather aggressive slope, the mirrors look like they’ve been molded by air themselves and the traditional vehicle grill has been replaced by a metal body like armor that looks like it was crafted in the the future. However, Chevy has taken care to make sure that the Volt is not a vast departure from their other vehicles on the road and in fact could pass for Chevy Malibu at a quick glance, provided you overlooked the Volt insignia on the rear of the vehicle and some other design cues.
Needless to say the Volt houses two “gas” flaps. At the rear of the vehicle is your traditional gas tank lid, while the electrical socket is located just in front of the driver’s side door. Unlike its gas guzzling counterpart it can be opened directly from the key fob, or by an interior button found on the driver’s side door. Like the Nissan Leaf, Chevy has opted for the standard charging plug, which is now popping up around the US, though the majority are still located throughout California, with an additional roll out planned that promises ultra fast charging.
Just beneath the car front bumper sits a rubber flap. It’s an assumption, but I believe it is designed to further help reduce the drag of the car. At glance of the vehicle it’s virtually undetectable, that unless of course you driving the Volt down a ramp, say into a garage, where upon it will inevitably drag. It took some getting use to, but I eventually took comfort knowing that it was a rubber flap, and while it may be incurring some damage, it won’t aesthetically impact the car’s facade and probably is easily replaceable in the event it incurs too much damage.
I live in Santa Monica, CA so there is no shortage of Toyota’s Prius; sneeze and you can hit one. To be completely candid, I’m not a fan of Toyota’s vehicle, both because I think it’s a poser’s car and is God awful ugly. After parking the Volt side-by-side with the Japanese hybrid I could see similar design cues, but it was absolutely apparent that the Volt is a better looking vehicle that boasts more aggressive lines and appeal that doesn’t try to be what it hopes to be, it just is, which is a green vehicle. Nonetheless, it’s still very much a Chevy, all American vehicle despite its forward thinking internals. Don’t expect European like curves and subtleties to surprise you as you continue to drive this vehicle.
Contrary to the Volt’s exterior design cues, the interior of the vehicle is supple, comfortable and all together a pleasure to sit in. The center console divides the entire car’s seating arrangement to house the battery pack. As a result the rear can only accommodate four adults, though that might be questionable if a 6-foot plus driver is at the wheel such as myself; there was mere inches of leg room behind me. However, I’m glad to report that I didn’t have to put the seat all the way back to find a comfortable driving position. Notably there is more than adequate room for drinks, though I’m sure a family of 5 would gladly sacrifice that feature for more seating room.
The leather seating is nothing short of exceptional, and like the rest of the car’s interior received the same attention to detail that Chevy put into crafting the interior cabin’s line. But, that said, the Chevy Volt’s interior, at least in terms of driver position in regards to the dash, windshield and blind spots is an entirely different beast and one that had me frustrated. I’ll let the pictures do the majority of the talking, but as you can see the rear window is heavily obstructed. On the converse, turning into crosswalks almost resulted in a few flattened pedestrians as the frame of the vehicle is just wide enough that it blocks your line of sight when looking 45 degrees forward; your line of sight into the cross walk. The front windows are heavily angled and couple that with the angled windshield and it makes it a challenge to lean forward and peak as you enter into perpendicular streets – I know because I received a few rude gestures (use your imagination).
Unfortunately, the pain of my interior woes doesn’t end there. The center console, which houses the touchscreen LCD, DVD player and nav controls is an atrocious oversight on the behalf of Chevy. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder how a car with so much advanced tech under the hood could possibly have such an antiquated center console. Again, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but as you can see there are a vast array of touch buttons. They’re designed to be touch sensitive, but are really anything but. Though it did get some what easier to administer over the course of 7 days, trying to locate a button while driving was a test of not only my memory, but of my multitasking motor skills (keeping the car on the road). To add insult to injury the Nav system is your usual fuddy duddy, choppy graphics without any of the pizzazz of an Android or iPhone, the exact people Chevy must be targeting with this vehicle.
Nonetheless, there is a USB port to accomodate such a smartphone and a system that works directly with your iPod. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, there is no specialy designated system to locate a charging station, though you can pull these up as a point of interest. And like the Leaf, which displayed a growing tree as an indicator of your green driving habits, the Volt can show you your driving efficiency, which is based on your level of acceleration, breaking and slowing as you approach stops – shift the car into L and like a gas powered automatic, the car will automatically slow, though the Volt will capture energy thanks to a regenerative breaking system.
The Volt’s audio system was surprisingly robust. They’ve outfitted it with Bose speakers and for a sedan vehicle it seriously kicks. While it doesn’t support A2DP Bluetooth for playing music, you can take calls directly over the car’s speakers. I was fortunate to be able to test this with my iPhone 4s. Calls came in fine, with callers reporting that I actually sounded very present with no detection of echo. But, Siri refused to cooperate and I wasn’t able to control Spotify using the center dash’s built-in controls. A small caveat, but one worth noting in this day and age.
The center dash is complemented by a driver heads up display that can display the car’s speed, two trip computers and total mileage. You can toggle between battery and gas remaining, as well as view the tire pressure as well view the approaching GPS turn. It’s not the most remarkable of displays, but it can be easily be administered by an adjacent knob and button that is simple to use and works, especially when compared to the Leaf’s overly complicated version.
While the Volt is not a “driver’s vehicle” it does boast some road handling skills and a smooth ride that rivals some luxury sedans. First off, the interior, especially when the gas powered motor isn’t engaged, is remarkably quiet as affirmed by a few friends who stated just such. However, once the combustion engine kicks in you’ll be greeted with a rather whiny, but weak sounding engine noise.
The Volt is equipped with three driving modes: normal, sport and mountain. Normal is for every day driving. It uses the battery powered until you run out of juice. Sport is similar to normal, but provides an extra kick off the line. Mountain, though, is a different beast. It’s designed to run the engine at a higher RPM, which in turn generates more electricity for the batteries to capture. So why mountain? Mountains take more juice to climb, so in practice this mode would be engaged before approaching hilly terrain allowing the batteries to soak up more juice before the drive train demands it. So in theory, you could run the car on Mountain mode, charge up the batteries – it would take a long time and defeat the cost savings – and never have to plugin the car.
Everyday driving around the city of LA and Santa Monica was for the most part a pleasurable experience. The Chevy Volt handles relatively well, is smooth on the bumps and is agile enough for the average driver. But for those of you that have a tendency to zip through corners, you’ll want to think twice. The Volt has some body roll, but nothing above or beyond the average sedan. On the highway the ride was very smooth, the cabin quiet and the handling sufficient to travel at speeds of 70-80mph. Passing cars, if planned ahead of time, and assuming battery juice is still present didn’t seem to be a problem and was on par with Nissan’s Leaf.
I’m most accustom to driving a VW GTI, where breaking and handling are very responsive. That said, I couldn’t help but feel as though the Volt had a tendency to stop short with the majority of breaking power engaging at the latter end of the pedal’s range. Again, it’s a sedan, so by no means is the car unsafe, it’s just a bit sluggish in the turns and given its rather small engine don’t expect to race off the line, though in sport mode it seemed pretty adequate – the power is instant thanks to the battery power.
I haven’t been a Chevy fan. I’ll probably never buy one of their cars, unless it was born before 1970 and even then I’m more inclined to go for a Ford Mustang. Nevertheless, the Volt is an astonishing upgrade and a bold move by Chevy that is sure to pay off. I can only commend them on their willingness to risk so much, even though they killed the electric car 7 years ago. So perhaps this is their way of making good on their past mistakes.
The Volt to me is the ideal green vehicle since range anxiety is virtually eliminated thanks to the combination of a gas and electric engine. Unlike the Prius it can run off electricity only, and in the event you’re traveling 40+ miles you’ve got the gas engine to fall back. Where as with the Leaf you’re limited to a 100 mile range in absolutely ideal scenario, and that’s only twice the range of the Volt’s electric range. In theory you can drive the Volt purely on electricity, provided you live about 20 miles from work (most Americans live within 16 miles from their job). Though, the Volt’s engines will automatically flush gas through it periodically to keep things operating smoothly.
The Volt in many ways is an unrivaled vehicle that was and still is awe inspiring. The target market is still rather niche and Chevy will have to invest, along with other car manufacturers to educate the general public. That said, anyone purchasing this vehicle will want to ensure that there is a garage that can service the Volt’s dual engine setup.
- Amazing fuel economy
- Great interior that is very comfortable
- Runs on fuel and electricity, you choose
- Cockpit has obstructed views
- Center dash is a complete mess and a huge oversight
- Only seats 4